Protocol Finds Dark and Light in Suicide


Maggie Cochrane

Protocol delves into the discomfort of suicide and heartbreak.

By Elizabeth Zhou

The terms “suicide” and “comedy” generally do not go well together, but Protocol, an entirely student-produced play that ran in the Hepburn Zoo from Nov. 20-22, managed to merge these two themes beautifully. As the audience followed the complicated lives of a group of twenty-something-year-old friends, it became clear that even in the darkest of times, it is perfectly okay to laugh.

The play, written by Erica Furgiuele ’15 and directed by Hannah Johnston ’15.5, begins on a rather heavy note as the troubled and sarcastic main character Harry, played by Boone McCoy-Crisp ’16, attempts suicide. Yet even as he pops pill after pill into his mouth, gazing intently into the audience with sorrowful eyes, his monologue gives way to bits of light comedy.

Life, Harry proclaims, is “one beautiful but deadly mathematical curve towards oblivion.” He then remarks, “Man, I should have been a poet. But I gave it up for my real love … auditing. I just do limericks on the side sometimes.”

This type of humor becomes Harry’s trademark throughout the play, which follows him and his friends dealing with the aftermath of his suicide attempt. As playwright Furgiuele explained, “The comedic mask that he puts on is how he hides his pain from other people.” Through moments of insecurity, tenderness and frustration, McCoy-Crisp’s poignant portrayal of Harry’s struggle to shed his mental-case identity and navigate his personal life showcased the incredible range of his acting skill.

Following the dark exposition, the rest of the play takes on a lighter note as Harry and his ex-girlfriend Meg, played by Joelle Mendoza-Etchart ’15, rekindle their complicated romance and their friends, Elle, played by Furgiuele, and Arthur, played by Michael McCann ’15, prepare for their wedding. Along the way, Meg seeks life advice from her witty, energetic and elderly chess partner Pierre, played by Jack DesBois ’15, fends off Elle’s incessant meddling in her love life and butts heads with Harry’s passive-aggressive brother Cole, played by Jabari Matthew ’17, who does not approve of her re-entrance into Harry’s life.

The flurry of intersecting events and relationships made for tightly packed scenes, which jumped from hospital rooms to coffee shops to a disastrous Christmas party involving burnt quiche. Through it all, Protocol provided a delightful and, at times, painfully accurate depiction of reality. As each character’s quirks, flaws and inner conflicts were exposed, emotionally charged confrontations and temporary falling-outs inevitably followed.

Furgiuele crafted the play with the multifaceted nature of humanity in mind.

“The most beautiful and the ugliest parts of us are inextricably linked,” she said. “When you know someone, you need to embrace all parts of them, no matter how hard it is. All of these characters are deeply flawed, but also very beautiful and very wonderful to behold.”

The actors, whom director Johnston described as “naturally funny,” delivered their performances with both honesty and likeability, fully enveloping themselves in the struggles and mindsets of their respective characters. Mendoza-Etchart’s earnest portrayal of Meg, who wanders through life with a fair amount of uncertainty, struck an affectionate chord with the audience, particularly as she anxiously voiced her inner monologue in preparation for her first post-breakup date with Harry. Meanwhile, the relaxed chemistry between actors McCann and Matthew set the foundation for scenes of comedic gold, namely whilst husband-to-be Arthur and his best man, Cole, frantically cobble together their wedding speeches.

The audience enthusiastically received DesBois’s performance as Pierre – Meg’s nursing home friend, chess partner and unofficial life adviser.

With his thick French accent, energetic stage presence and lush white hair, which let out puffs of baby power each time he kissed Meg animatedly on the cheek, Pierre provided a charming and hilarious distraction from the strife of the young adults. His role ultimately proved to be crucial to the plot, after his sage advice convinces Meg to reconsider her actions toward Harry.

From the director’s chair, Johnston struggled to set the right tone for the production.

“How do I make this a play that people know that they can laugh at, and at the same time not make light of the serious stuff going on?” she recalled asking herself.

In one of the most serious moments of the play, Harry confronts Meg about the empty medicine cabinet and questions her trust in him in the wake of his suicide attempt. McCoy-Crisp and Mendoza-Etchart executed the shifting dynamics within this scene brilliantly, creating a dramatic turning point within the story.

Furgiuele found this emotional interaction the most difficult to write.

“It’s easy to be funny and make jokes, but it’s hard to say what you mean because words are these flimsy things,” she said.

Despite the dark premise of the play – suicide, heartbreak and the severance of ties – a sense of hope and possibility pervades at the end, with everyone putting their disputes aside to celebrate Elle and Arthur’s wedding. In following Meg and Harry’s fumbled attempts to redefine their relationship through shared blueberry muffins, spilled coffees and difficult conversations, the audience gains a newfound appreciation for love and companionship.

“I hope audience members take away the idea that even though love is really difficult and most of the time doesn’t work out, it’s still worth trying for,” Johnston said.

The ultimate goal, she added, was “to make people laugh and think and go home a little happier than before.”

By striking the right balance between tears and smiles, melancholy and lightheartedness, this beautifully crafted suicide comedy managed to do just that.